Thanksgiving means different things to different people. For some, it’s all about the food – turkey and dressing and potatoes and pie, probably an obligatory vegetable or two. For some, it’s all about the football, especially if you’re a Lions or Cowboys fan. For some, it’s all about the shopping, or at least getting ready for the shopping. For some, including me, it’s all about the family. Ann and the kids and I nearly always spend Thanksgiving weekend with family, both Ann’s mother in Blue Springs and my family in Springfield.
Of course, “family” doesn’t have to mean strictly blood relatives and in-laws. Some of the very best families are the ones we choose. Ann and I have friends in Springfield who, for years, have had a “family of choice” Thanksgiving celebration; they invite all the people to whom they wish they were related. One of the best Thanksgivings I can remember was when Ann and I were in seminary. We were stuck in Austin over the holiday, along with several other students. So all the seminary Thanksgiving refugees gathered for a stunning meal – even on seminarian budgets.
In all those examples, the Thanksgiving celebration is about much more than eating or shopping or watching football, even though any or all of those activities may take place. The celebration is about giving thanks for who we are. It’s about giving thanks for a shared identity – for our belonging together and for the tie that binds us together, with is nothing less than the love of God.
The reading this morning from Deuteronomy lets us know that, early on, the people of Israel had their own affirmation of shared identity. Moses commands the people that, when they enter the land that God is giving them, they are to say thank-you by actively remembering who and whose they are – not just bringing something to mind but sacramentalizing that memory with word and action. These people were not merely wanderers, though hard experience might have made them see themselves that way. They were the people whom God has chosen to redeem from slavery and oppression, and brought through the frightening power of the Red Sea, and then stood by for 40 years in the wilderness, despite how the people didn’t exactly deserve it. So once this covenant community comes into the land of blessing, Moses says, they are to take first fruits of that land – the choicest produce, some of the very best of what they’ve got – and bring it to God’s sanctuary as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This serves to remind them not just that God is in charge but that the God who is in charge has blessed them beyond measure. In fact, God has blessed them so richly in bringing them through the Red Sea and into a new existence that they are now defined by that blessing of redemption, that blessing of new life. They have become a new people, and God expects them to act that way.
We have something similar happening here this morning. We don’t usually have baptisms on Thanksgiving Day, but the happy coincidence reminds us that God also asks us to remember sacramentally who we are and then give thanks for it. In just a few minutes, Charley, Hunter, Parker, and Monroe will come here to this tiny pool of the Red Sea, the place of dying to old ways of life and rising into new community. It’s the same process of dying and rising that Jesus hallowed through the cross and the empty tomb. Here, in this deceptively tame little pond of the water of life, we die with Christ and rise as new creations, members of a new family, the family of God. So on this Thanksgiving Day, many of us remember that we, too, were adopted into God’s family at some point in our journey – maybe as one of our first steps, maybe later on in the hard-won wisdom of maturity. And on this day, we, too, give thanks that we have been welcomed into the household of God and into the company of saints.
But that’s not all that we remember this morning. On this Thanksgiving Day, we will join with our family members across time and space, as we offer our own first fruits of thankfulness and receive the real presence of the living Christ in a meal more divine than even my mother’s stuffing and gravy. We will come to this altar, the supper table of the Lamb; and, through the power of prayer, we will actively remember our deep mystery: that Jesus Christ comes among us in the offerings we bring here this morning, in simple bread and simple wine. And through our active remembering, we take our Lord directly into our hands and onto our lips, being made one with him and with all our divine family members. And as we do, we can’t help but be grateful. It is no accident that the name for what we’re doing here this morning, and what we do every Sunday, is Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word that means – you guessed it – Thanksgiving.
So as these four little ones come to the waters of new birth, and as we come to dine at the banquet of the kingdom of heaven, here is my prayer for you: Let the mystery go to work on you and remind you who you are. You are a member of the family of God. You are welcomed to come and take your seat at the table, invited to dine on the bread of life, and bound into a community that asks of you nothing less than your life, the commitment of your heart, day after day after day. That’s who you are. So as a member of the beloved family, offer to God your sacrifice of Thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High.